July 2019

This summer I’ve been living more than cleaning. My house shows it. There are piles in the corners, shelves stacked against the wall of the room I used for meditation and no longer find peaceful.

Last summer I shared my home with a crew, my son, my daughter, a family of three, and oftentimes my then partner, sometimes his daughter. This morning is quiet, painful and lovely at once.

In the past year, my house has been changing. I wanted to say transformed, but that isn’t right. First I took back my older son’s room, which had been rented on and off the last three years, painted it, spruced it up with old things that were elsewhere in the house.

My now former partner was out of work and handy and took on lots of chores around my house in exchange for pay I could afford and he could live on. Together we painted the living and dining room, which hadn’t been painted since the week my daughter was born, eighteen years ago.

He and a friend re-glazed the living room windows, oiled the back porch rails, refinished the back porch table, removed mildew from the third floor bath and painted it, then refinished the cabinets there. He stripped wallpaper and then painted one son’s room and then another.

Together we chose colors that shifted the energy in my home, creamy white for the walls of the living room, dining room, and bedrooms, with accent walls of deep yellow in the living room, bold green in the older son’s room, deep magenta rose in the other’s.

We painted the stairway hall a pair of greens, changing the entrance way into a place that I first worried was too much and which now feels welcoming.

He repaired a bunch of screens, many broken drawers in a bureau, a file cabinet, and my kitchen, and added two to the bathroom vanity where we had none. There were doors and gates that wouldn’t open and he planed them. There were holes in the walls and he patched them.

My oven broke and he helped me choose another and installed a microwave above it, leaving counter space for a new toaster oven where the microwave had been and a beverage station where the old toaster oven had been, complete with bean grinder, Aeropress, electric kettle, and seltzer machine, where we made lots of coffee, tea, and cold drinks.

At the moment my freezer is overfull of ice cream, which we ate together and he ate alone, in between the projects and often before meals. I need to stop buying more, as on my own I eat very little.

Even now we’ve parted ways, he’s continued to help me out, finishing a frame for a poster for my older son’s room last week, the frame itself a work of art, and coming yesterday to repair and paint the gates again in anticipation of the my day care re-licensing visit.

This morning when I got up and made my tea, I missed making our coffee together, sharing eggs and berries and yogurt and our days.

I haven’t felt like cleaning. I’ve wanted to be out or with my daughter. I’ve been working a lot. Someday, someone new will be here, a new partner, maybe someday new housemates, my daughter’s friends. For now, it’s mostly me and my daughter, with an occasional visit from my son and his fiance. The house can be ragged. My daughter and I live together amicably, taking turns washing dishes and tidying and doing laundry, working together in the kitchen and sharing meals.

For now, the house and I are in a state of wonder. Will I redo the kitchen? The second floor bath? Will I paint the third floor again at last, make bookshelves in my room to hold the piles around the house? Will I hang the files in the file cabinet and tidy up the room meant to be a study, maybe move the shelves stacked there against the walls, maybe even turn them into bookshelves in my room, as I imagined when I lay awake this morning in the fours, feeling the alone-ness and uncertainty acutely, as I have all summer long?

There were sometimes flowers on the table and he brought more, live as well as painted ones when I was recovering from surgery and at birthday and holiday time.

Today there is a bouquet from one of my day care families beside me on the table, to honor a long and worthy partnership, brought at pick up yesterday on the child’s and mother’s last day here of many.

For now, the day care shapes my days. My daughter shapes my nights. Travel and being with others far away has shaped my weekends, as well as a lot of time alone, driving, swimming, trying to reshape my life in an image I want to live into now and going forward. Wish me luck.

This summer my daughter has been working with me in the day care. Today my son stepped in so I could keep my commitments elsewhere and the teacher scheduled to work could attend to personal business.

As I drink my morning tea, I can hear Jonah reading down below, relaxed, animated like the performer that he is, gentle, kind.

My daughter and I talk at night about what is happening with the children. She asks perceptive questions as she always has, a person of exceptional emotional intelligence, and offers insights I might not have come to without hers.

It’s a rare pleasure not many of us have these days, to work with our children, to share our chosen profession with those we’ve raised, to have our children step into our shoes in our world of work.

When I first had my children, I mourned each passing phase. My mother reminded me that every stage can be wonderful. My kids and I have been in hard places. At the moment, we mostly aren’t.

I find their emerging adulthood fascinating. Perhaps they see me differently now, too, from this vantage point of working alongside me, of struggling with some of the challenges of adulthood they’ve witnessed me struggle with over the years, of experiencing some of the deep pleasures and joys that surprise us in adulthood.

A long time ago someone somewhere said the measure of raising children well lies in enjoying their company as adults. I feel quite lucky in that department. I love and admire and enjoy my kids and can only hope the feelings are mutual.

Middle age, the letting go, the watching our children grow up and move away, is such a complicated place, of loss, of longing, of remembering, of unknown, of loneliness and solitude, of new hope and facing fears.

Young people becoming themselves, taking on the world in new ways, relating to me from a vantage point of greater autonomy and experience, are enlivening.

They allow me to lay down my burdens, if even for a day, and to trust, incrementally, that they will be the keepers of the flame, the caretakers of tomorrow, and that some days, its ok for me to relax and allow them to show me the way.

I come home from being out to the wild hedges in front of my house, sticking out every which way beneath the unkempt maple who stretches her boughs down to tickle passers by on the sidewalk below.

I had left the house earlier to take my daughter to Davis Square, feeling self-conscious as we pulled out of the driveway about neglecting my yard.

I should be trimming tonight, I told my daughter. Why? she asked. I hardly even notice them.

They are the hedges of a crazy woman, I say. She looks back as we drive away, notices the contrast between the hedges I’ve left untrimmed on two sides and the neatly trimmed hedges my neighbor manages between our properties, and laughs.

After being out and meeting someone new for dinner, then visiting my old friends at the Sharing Circle, full of love and soul around the candles, sitting on the folding chairs on the edges of the rug we roll out and roll up and put away, I came home to the wilds of Somerville with new vision.

I’ve lived my life here making a home of curb finds and flea market treasures. Sunday I visited the Providence Flea with friends. I brought home four glowing orange dinner plates, two hand made sunset dessert plates, a small serving bowl in sky blue, and two little golden bowls to hold our berries. I haven’t been able to keep my eyes off them all week. They catch the sun as it sets outside my windows and contrast boldly with the dark green kale and the bright red strawberries my daughter and I love.

I am not meant for new and shiny, for pure and white. I am attracted to old and colorful, to light and patina, to chips and stories. Anyone who can love me for that (including my sometimes more judgmental self) is welcome here. Anyone who cannot love me or this home for the wild (h)edges and the mismatched, glowing dishes need not worry.

As I come up the stairs to my home I notice the flowers blooming amidst the straying hedges. I am not meant for trim and tidy. I am the let it bloom and grow kind of Maria, the one who will trim eventually, when it’s cooler, when the time is right. Let the neighbors talk. Quiet my inner voices down.

Like the ants crawl freely inside this year, un-poisoned, the hedges grow wildly outside, untrimmed and blooming. Something about that is speaking to me, along with the birds in the trees and the squirrels who played chasing games on my roof at 4 am this morning, leaping from the overgrown branches onto my home, wreaking havoc with my sleep and causing me to look up the tree service on my phone, imagining they might be able to help me tame the nature invading my city world.

I didn’t call the tree service. Instead I planned a road trip with my daughter, bought camping supplies, plotted routes across beautiful, rugged terrain out west, fantasized about adventure and new worlds, in hopes of opening to new life.

What lies ahead at 52, another long term relationship ended, my daughter heading into her senior year of boarding school, my sons on their own? Its impossible to say, though I hope it will be soulful. For now, home will be my filter.